Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

The Limbourg Brothers: March from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry & A Lesson in Pastels

We began our picture study of the Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean with March's painting from the Tres Riches Heures.
March: the Château de Lusignan, from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The painting shows the year's first farm work; sowing and ploughing and the like. The chateau in the background is that of Lusignan, one of the Duke's favourites.

We talked about how the Tres Riches Heures is the classic example of a medieval book of hours. I told them that a book of hours was a collection of the text for each liturgical hour of the day - hence the name - which often included other, supplementary, texts. Later there were Book of Days which also commonly included calendars, prayers, psalms and masses for certain holy days. I told them that the painting was painted some time between 1412 and 1416.
I gave them a little background about the artists. They came from Flanders but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them but they are believed to have been born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen.

They are known to have executed several other pieces of work apart from the Tres Riches Heures but most of these seem to have been lost. In around February 1416 all three Limbourg brothers died before the age of thirty, apparently killed by an epidemic.

I told my older students, who are studying the rise of Burgundy, a little about the man who commissioned the brothers to paint the Tres Riches Heures. Jean de Berry was one of the highest nobles in 15th-century France and was identified with an anti-Burgundian faction, as a result of which his property was attacked on several occasions by pro-Burgundian mobs. On one such occasion, in 1411, his Chateau de Bicetre was burned to the ground, destroying many of the works of the Limbourgs.

I told them a little about the materials that were used in the paintings. The Limbourg's used a wide variety of colours obtained from minerals, plants or chemicals and mixed with gums to provide a binder for the paint. Amongst the more unusual colours they used were a green obtained from crushed flowers, and an ultramarine made from crushed Middle Eastern lapis-lazuli, used to paint the brilliant blues, which was, of course, extremely expensive. The extremely fine detail which was the characteristic feature of the Limbourgs needed extremely fine brushes and lenses.
Do you recognize the plow from the boy's history notebooks? Yes, it is from the this March picture from Tres Riches Heures. And perhaps you will find the other pictures from other paintings in this series as we go along.

After appreciating the painting, we thought we would make our own smaller version of a book of days. We decided to make four pieces of art, representing the four seasons and that we would do one a week for the four weeks we will be studying the Limbourgs.
I decided that we would use chalk pastels instead of paints for our pieces as I have been wanting to complete some lessons in that medium for a long while. My students are self-conscious of making pieces with a lot of detail for fear of mistakes, so steering them instead to the minimalist approach that the pastel provide would eliminate that as an issue for my young artists.

I am taking my pastel lessons entirely from Homeschool Highlight's wonderful tutorials. If you have not seen them yet, you must go over and see them now, for they are truly magnificent. They show that this medium can be used for all ages.

We picked the twilight barn for our representation of spring.

My 16-year old son is autistic and doesn't like the feel of the chalks very much so he used a paper towel to blend the colors... instead of "fisting" it in.
My daughter, who has already graduated, wanted to join us with this project, but she used her oil pastels, which gives it a richer color, but does not blend as easily.

My 9-year old got very artistic with his clouds; they began to take on a bit of Van Gogh character.
Here is my 16-year old's.
Here is mine.
Here is my 18 year old's, using oil pastels.
Here is my 6-year old's
Here is my 13-year old's.

My 9-year old's is the bottom one.
Later we will begin making them a part of our Book of Days.

For some beginner's tips for using Chalk Pastels, click here.


  1. Oh, I LOVE pastels- there is something so relaxing about coloring with them...

    (All the kiddos pictures are BEAUTIFUL, by the way!)

  2. These look so beautiful. I haven't used pastels in the longest time - I have to pick these up soon and see what my daughter does with them ;)
    Thanks, for sharing ;)


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